REVIEW: ‘Where Will The River Flow’ – Matt Carmichael

THE OPENNESS and beauty of the west Central Lowlands of Scotland (Yon wandering rill that marks the hill, And glances o’er the brae*) evoked in the cover art to tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael’s Where Will The River Flow hints at the contemporary expressions of jazz and Scots folk heritage found in this vitalising debut album.

From Dunbartonshire, and soon to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 21-year-old Carmichael began playing at around the age of 11. A Peter Whittingham Development Award in 2019 recognised the potential that had earlier been seen by saxophonist Tommy Smith (“better than I was at that age”) who invited him to join his youth jazz orchestra. More recently, he also impressed as a finalist in 2020’s BBC Young Jazz Musician awards, playing his own compositions which included numbers from this album.

Like so many Scottish composers and players before him, the beauty of Carmichael’s homeland strongly informs these nine tracks which are melodically fresh, yet can also erupt with vivacity and technical flair. Their folksy footing means that, while these originals don’t head into the rugged terrain of more exploratory, avant garde jazz, they can most certainly jig with an infectious joie de vivre – and that’s due in equal part to the ebullience of his quartet colleagues, pianist Fergus McCreadie, double bassist Ali Watson and drummer Tom Potter.

The Spey is perhaps the most boisterous example of that – a breathlessly rapid reel reflecting ‘the fastest river in Scotland’, which nevertheless provides space for McCreadie’s improvisatory vigour (becoming his signature, as heard in recent release Cairn). It also demonstrates Carmichael’s confidence in writing a ruthlessly difficult main figure to share with the pianist (eventually) on the bandstand! Another river depiction, Firth – specifically, the Moray Firth – teems and tumbles over itself to Tom Potter’s thrashing percussion as it heads over to the North Sea. The title track, too, is an eleven-minute hike that climaxes in gushing, torrential grandeur – an indicator of the saxophonist’s unbounded optimism, amidst current artistic ‘turbulence’, in the early stages of what promises to be a fulfilling career.

Just as warming are Carmichael’s more mellow excursions into the great outdoors of his childhood. Cononbridge (near Inverness) ambles to the homey, rhythmic tread of piano, bass and drums; and its softly whirling tenor melody possesses ‘sig tune’ appeal, while also joyfully scaling improvisational heights. Looking north-east from the summit, Carmichael recalls his time studying in Oslo, and his watery inspiration taken from there – Sognnsvann – is a beautifully lilting lakeside theme imaginable as a Trio Mediaeval interpretation. Contrasting pibroch-styled Interlude, under greying skies, swoons to plaintive tenor over double bass drone, its icy grip relinquished to Hopeful Morning which skips with memorable, almost Spyro Gyra-like radio appeal.

Dedication Dear Grandma seems to draw from its composer a sense of gratitude and ‘place’ in a tranquil, meandering ballad; and the aurora of closing improvisation Valley signals the sun to gradually arc into full brilliance as the quartet thunders in rock-solid celebration.

Matt Carmichael’s musicality already displays striking maturity and awareness, with a compositional vocabulary that suggests much for future projects. Right now, Where Will The River Flow is likely to put a spring in your step!

Released on 12 March 2021 and available in CD, vinyl and digital formats at Bandcamp.

 

Matt Carmichael tenor saxophone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Ali Watson double bass
Tom Potter drums

Album art by Joanne Carmichael

*quoted from An Ode to Spring – Robert (Rabbie) Burns

mattcarmichaelmusic.com

Porthole Music – PM01 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Snakes and Ladders’ – Paul Edis Trio

PIANIST Paul Edis established himself as one of the leading lights of contemporary jazz and other genres in his native north-east England, over the past fifteen years or so. Following his return to London in 2020 (where he studied), he has now released uplifting piano trio album Snakes and Ladders, with double bassist Andy Champion and drummer Russ Morgan.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 2 October 2020 and available as a digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Paul Edis piano, Fender Rhodes
Andy Champion double bass
Russ Morgan drums

Artwork by Lynsey Gray

pauledis.co.uk

Self-released (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Vesuviana’ – Bruno d’Ambra Trio

PIANIST Bruno d’Ambra has quite a story to tell – not just through the spirit of his music, but also in the way he first set foot on UK soil with the zeal to energize his career.

Discovering jazz in his teens and then progressing to play the clubs and bars of his native Italy, he was searching for more as he reached his early twenties. So with a rucksack, a small keyboard carefully packed into a cardboard box and £300 in his pocket (a parting gift from his late grandad), Bruno arrived in London. Over the next two decades, the dedication of this self-taught musician led him to the stages of venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, 606 Club, Pizza Express Dean Street; and one of his greatest honours was the invitation to perform at a 2011 gala dinner for US President Barack Obama and Her Majesty The Queen. He is now an established educator, while sharing bandstand or recording studio with the likes of Tony Kofi, Alex Garnett, Jim Mullen, Brandon Allen, Nigel Price, Natalie Williams and Tommaso Starace.

New album Vesuviana sees d’Ambra collaborating with his piano-trio personnel of double bassist Jason Reyes and drummer Emiliano Caroselli in an often fiery yet elegant programme of eight originals, presented as a musical diary inspired by a person, place or situation. The title, explains Bruno, references the railway connecting Naples to towns around Mount Vesuvius, but also describes “a connection and a sense of belonging” to the region.

Initially erupting with cinder-hurling vocal chant, the title track is transformed into a carefree sightseeing journeying, transported by the lightness of bass and brushes; and Bruno d’Ambra’s pianistic touch at this point feels considered, even polite. Waltzing Mandorla Kiss shares that aura, its recollections of “romantically sipping ‘latte di mandorla’ on a beach in Puglia” offering phrases that could easily carry a lyric. But there are different facets to his playing, especially in the improvisational streaks, here, which are so freely liquescent (as is Reyes’ nimble bass soloing). Fast-swinging Top Geezer – with characterful flattened fifth, and named after grandad – flies like the spark-imbued wind, illuminated by firecracking drumming from Caroselli; and blithe Three for Trane almost cries out for its dedicatee to join the trio on tenor or soprano sax!

Alternating rhythms in Midnight Road Rage (inspired by a post-gig drive home) capture the artistic effrontery of Thelonius Monk as they dart and then ease back, including an ostinato section during the drum feature which might illustrate the wearying repetition of streetlights (d’Ambra must be a delight to watch in performance). Warm ballad Blue Pictures of You softly blazes in the night sky, with Reyes’ bass improv given free rein; In for a Penny’s rapid bossa feel is exhilarating; and charming Concettina (affectionately the leader’s “third grandmother”) closes the set in sensitive wonder, with distant echoes of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ – are the stars out tonight?

It’s always a pleasure to unwrap new music in the post-bop idiom and also of Neapolitan origin. At just over half an hour’s duration, Vesuviana brings to mind the old ‘small packages’ adage – there are indeed ‘good things’ aplenty in Bruno d’Ambra Trio’s bright, breezy and accessible outing.

Released on 21 January 2021 and available from Bandcamp.

 

Bruno d’Ambra piano
Jason Reyes double bass
Emiliano Caroselli drums
with
Al Maranca (voice, lyrics, percussion – track 1)

Artwork by Jonathan Emmerson

brunodambramusic.com

Self-released (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Som En Faldskærm’ – Hvalfugl

THIS BIZARRE SIGHTING of purple whales serenely airlifted over a Scandinavian mountain range signals the arrival of the second album Som En Faldskærm (Like a Parachute) – following debut album By – by Danish trio Hvalfugl (their name formed from two words translating as ‘whale’ and ‘bird’).

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 8 March 2019 and available as CD or digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Jeppe Lavsen electric guitar
Jonathan Fjord Bredholt
piano, harmonium
Anders Juel Bomholt double bass

hvalfugl.dk

Self-released, supported by DMF, Koda Culture and Aarhus Kommune (2019)

REVIEW: ‘Live at the Vortex’ – Kristian Borring Quartet

KristianBorring_Live at the Vortex

DANISH GUITARIST Kristian Borring’s most recent solo albums (Urban Novel and Silent Storm) revealed artistry and technique of particularly deft, cool clarity – and from the bright, opening phrases of the first of six well-chosen numbers, these live quartet recordings garnered from a session at London’s Vortex Jazz Club hold the attention in an especially direct way.

Live music is so precious; and a glimpse (or memory) of this quartet’s late-November evening sparkle is recorded and engineered here with precision by Alex Bonney, the inclusion of appreciative, close audience applause placing it in context. Along with pianist Rick Simpson, double bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Jon Scott, Borring’s electric guitar personality consistently shines – from a Jim Hall lushness in busy Imperfect Circumstances to the free-spirited dreaminess of A Lullaby which shimmers to Simpson’s tremulant piano washes and Scott’s brush-and-cymbal coloration (a drummer who consistently shades even the subtlest original music with focused, balmlike expression). Interesting, too, to hear two different interpretations from the Silent Storm release – Fable and April Fools, both with particularly effusive piano spotlights and the strong bass presence of Dave Whitford.

Borring’s London Magic (complete with recurring chordal motifs echoing the since-silenced hour chimes of Big Ben) is a positive and buoyant treasure, with crystalline solo-line improv supported so skilfully by his band; and turn up the volume for the romantically ornamented, unaccompanied guitar opening of Hoagy Carmichael’s evergreen Skylark which, it turns out, is just the prelude to almost nine minutes of rapturous, restrained, six-string beauty.

A pleasure to listen in on Kristian Borring and colleagues, on-stage, right there in their element.

Released on 15 September, Live at the Vortex is available, digitally, from Amazon.

 

Kristian Borring guitar
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Whitford double bass
Jon Scott drums

kristianborring.com

Self-released (2017)